Understanding Biblical and Professional Views of Substance Abuse and Counseling

 Understanding Biblical and Professional Views of Substance Abuse and Counseling:

A Personal View of Contrasts

Rodney L. Mulhollem

Liberty University



Biblical terminology to support counseling can include the words counsel, wisdom, and help, each of which can have numerous Hebrew and Greek foundational words. In reference to addictions, Biblical terminology can include but not limited to wine, desire, and restraint. Each of these words has numerous foundational words in both the Hebrew and Greek. From a professional or secular perspective of counseling and addictions, vast different perspectives of theories have been incorporated over the last few decades. Although the Bible is not a book of psychology, it does offer key insights to counseling addictions which in many cases have been mostly ignored by the professional field. Changing times are showing Biblical viewpoints to be the most successful in counseling addictions. Keywords: motivational interviewing, counsel, wisdom, help, desire, restraint, wine, Christian counseling, secular counseling, professional counseling

Understanding Biblical and Professional Views of Substance Abuse and Counseling:

A Personal View of Contrasts

Many times professional and Biblical perspectives of counseling and addictions are viewed as two different perspectives. Although the Bible is not a psychology book, it does however present a number of viewpoints on both of the subjects of addictions and counseling. Professional or what some would call, secular counseling in reference to addictions has evolved over the past decades into a new understanding of how to treat and deal with people who suffer from addictions. When considering much of the newest research in dealing with addictive counseling and a Biblical perspective of counseling and addictions, many parallels are found. Compassion, coming along side, patience, motivation, and allowing the person to make their own decisions are just a few of the examples of how these two perspectives correlate. Just as professional addictions counseling evolve and incorporate more of what the Bible suggests, there are also a number of differences as well. Much of original viewpoints of addictions stem from a legalistic Christian assumption. The viewpoint that addictions are nothing but rebellion and a person choice has been proven incorrect. Thus, much of professional counseling has walked away from this “Christian perspective” and rightfully so. However, with this separation, the depth of the spiritual nature has been lost. What this author believes as the foundational issue of addictions has been compensated with a more modern existential viewpoint with the focus being on personal strength instead of relying on God as the foundation.

Similarities and Contrasts between a Biblical and Professional View of Counseling

The Bible makes reference to a number of common terminologies that can be identified in both the counseling and addictions themes. In reference to counseling, three common terms utilized in the Bible include counsel, wisdom, and help. In reference to addictions, three common terms that are utilized in the Bible include wine, desire, and restraint.  Each of these words has both Hebrew and Greek roots which better defines the foundational viewpoint of the word. The Old Testament (OT) was written in Hebrew and the New Testament (NT) was written in Greek. Representations of these words are considered in ten different Bible translations. Summaries of both the counseling and addictive words are considered. The goal of most Biblical views of counseling is to incorporate correct interpretations of the Bible into practice. On the other hand, Professional or Secular counseling chooses to avoid a Biblical spiritual aspect of counseling and center more on a modern existential viewpoint focusing on the person and their capabilities. A summary of both a Biblical viewpoint of counseling, as well as a professional view point are considered and elaborated upon.

Summary of Core Biblical Themes Related to Counseling.

The word “counsel” is found in both the NT and the OT. On average, it is used over 101 times, with a two-thirds majority of the time used in the NT. The Hebrew root words include seven different words and the Greek uses three different root words. A general theme is found among both the Hebrew and Greek definitions. This theme revolves around a person or group of people that gives advice. This advice can be either good or bad. When referencing a counselor in modern professional terminology, the most common word used would fall under Greek as “boule” and “symbouleuo” (Mulhollem, 2012, p. 3). “Wisdom” is another word that can be used in reference to a core Biblical theme related to counseling. This word is referenced in both Hebrew and Greek with a general Biblical usage of more than 211 times with over two-thirds of the word’s reference being in Hebrew. The Journey Bible (1996) gives an excellent general definition of the word “wisdom” as “the understanding that comes from God” (Mulhollem, 2012, p.4). This general definition is supported in a number of both Hebrew and Greek foundational words including the Hebrew word “biynah” meaning that only the LORD gives wise counsel, wisdom, and understanding, as well as “tuwshiyah” referencing wisdom granted by God (Mulhollem, 2012, p. 5). In reference to Greek, both “sophia” and “phronesis” talk about wisdom as coming from “experience, learning, and supreme wisdom or intelligence from God” (Mulhollem, 2012, p.5). “Help” is another word that can be referenced in relationship to counseling. This word is found over 157 times in the Bible with the majority being in the OT. There are two different Hebrew root words for “help” with “yasha” focusing on “giving victory, safe from moral troubles, and to liberate and/or saves physically” (Mulhollem, 2012, p.6). Restoring and repairing is another definition from the Hebrew root word “Azab”. In reference to the Greek root words for “help” that mean counselor or counseling, Mulhollem (2012) states: …“symballo” (meet with, encounter and ponder), “synergeo” (work with, working together), and “synypourgeo” (help together)… These types of “help” can be incorporated into the counseling field when working with people through encouragement (synmallo) and when working with the client through their situations (synergeo and synpourgeo). (p. 6).

Summary of Core Professional Themes Related to Counseling.

When considering a professional theme for counseling, contemplation of its origins is important to lay a foundation of understanding. Original professional counselors can include, but are not limited to: Sigmund Freud (Psychoanalysis), Albert Ellis (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy), B. F. Skinner (Behavior), and Alfred Adler (Individual Psychology). The foundational mindset of professional counseling rests on a number of perspectives. However, there is a common theme amongst them. Most secular counseling theories start with the person and the constructs that have impacted them. Sigmund Freud taught the way to make changes in a person’s life was through psychosexual stages of development and through the integration of the structural and topographical model of personality including the Id, Ego, and Superego. Albert Ellis’s philosophy focused on what he called Epictetus with the focus of life simply being “surviving and being reasonably happy” (Murdock, 2009, p.279). Thus, Ellis taught the way we think about behavior is the problem. B.F Skinner taught, like animals, people simply react based upon classic and operant conditioning or react based upon circumstances and environmental implications.  Finally, Albert Adler believed that each person has an inner desire or tendency to strive for perfection, but has no theory of where this inner desire comes from (Murdock, 2009, p.109). Taking into consideration modern psychological and counseling approaches, Albert Bandura is considered to be “one of the most influential psychologists of modern time (Mulhollem, 2010). Meichenbaum (2002) also summed up Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory as, “According to social cognitive theory, human behavior is viewed as self-regulated, where individuals anticipate, plan, and reflect on their behavior, thoughts and feelings”. When considering the contrast between a Biblical view and a professional view, a key foundational difference arises. The originators of professional counseling (phychoanalysis) brought upon a relationship focused on the counselor being “outside the relationship” (Corey, 2009, p.71). This style of counseling was common and somewhat successful based upon the interpretation of the counselor. However, Carl Rogers found when incorporating compassion, caring, and unconditional love a new level of success was brought forward. His viewpoint, called the Personal Centered Theory, revolutionized modern counseling models, where most every kind of professional counseling theory now incorporate this technique. However, when considering a true hermeneutical Biblical perspective, Roger’s revolutionary discovery was incorporated centuries ago. When referencing the word “help” from a Biblical counseling perspective, three common Greek words “symballo”, “synergeo”, and “synypourgeo” ascend.  All point towards working together, meeting together with encouragement and pondering. Another difference in a Christian perspective of counseling versus a professional viewpoint of counseling is the overall goal of therapeutic outcome. In the book Psychology, Theology, and Spirituality, author McMinn (1996) points out the importance of not only psychological health, but spiritual health as well from a Christian viewpoint of counseling. When considering professional viewpoints of counseling Mulhollem (2012 a) writes: Theorists, such as Adler and Glasser, believe harmony with environmental including other people and their relationships, as the model of health, respectively (Murdock, 2009).  Others take more of a cognitive approach including: rational beliefs (Ellis), psychological equilibrium with the environment (Perls), and information processing (Beck)(Murdock, 2009, Feist and Feist, 2009). Thus, all can overlap in some regards. Thus, a Christian perspective goal of therapy could fall under the original definition of existentialism as written by its founder Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard stressed that each of us are authors of our lives with the focus to “…be a true self is to synthesize our opposing tendencies as we are grounded in God… (and) to make our choices of who to become in the context of our relationship with God” (Jones and Butman, 1991, p. 280).  Kierkegaard presented three main focusses to his existential theory: somatic (physical) domain, psychological domain, and the spiritual domain. However, a professional goal of therapy could fall under the modern definition of the existentialism viewpoint that was adopted by psychologists May and Bugental, which include, but are not limited to the ideas that we create ourselves based upon our own decisions, humans are ultimately alone in the universe, most of human anxiety is based upon the reality of death (Jones and Butman, 1991, p.285).

Similarities and Contrasts between a Biblical and Professional View of Addictions

Summary of Core Biblical Themes Related to Addictions.

When considering the Bible in reference to addictions, it is important to keep in mind that the focus of the Bible is not psychology or mental health. However, the Bible does present different constructs that can be incorporated in the field of addictions. Words than can be considered in the field of addictions include “wine”, “desire”, and “restraint”.  When considering the word “wine” there are 16 different original Hebrew or Greek words. In Hebrew there are two words that can be connected directly with addictions. “Shekar” refers to drunkards and “cobe`” refers to a drunken state.  When referencing the story of Noah, the Bible talks about him being “cobe” and loosing self-control which resulted in some negative consequences due to actions that he would not normally have done if not under the influence of the strong drink. In reference to Greek, the most fitting interpretation citing addictions is the word “parionos” which had two meanings. These meanings include a long history of drinking wine and the cause of abuse and brawling due to the reaction of the wine. In every referenced case of “parionos” the term is used in a negative way and there are negative consequences. The Bible also discusses important leadership roles in the church and compares the actions of the leaders to be the opposite of “parionos” (drunkenness, anger, and self-willed). Desire is another word referenced in the Bible that can be related to addictions. The Hebrew word “`avah” talks about how desire can become self-destructive (Proverbs 21:25).  Thus, desire can create a state of disequilibrium, “creating unhealthy patterns of abuse and addiction” (Mulhollem, 2012b). Two Greek root words for “desire” can easily be related to additions. “Aiter” means to desire to construct an evil deed in taking over a person. “Epithymeo” has a similar meaning in reference to consuming a person’s thoughts, but in a focus of lust.  Romans talks about desire being brought to a point of uncontrollable lust (Epithymeo) and Acts talks about desire being brought to the point of killing another individual (Aiter). Finally, “restraint” can be a term that can also be connected to addictions.  A Hebrew and Greek word for “restraint” is “ma`tsore” meaning losing control. Proverbs 14:16 talks about restraint (ma`tsore) as being something fools do, connecting it with carelessness and evil with the lack of wisdom. Galatians 3:23 discuses “restraint” as being confined to the law (of Moses) or the inability to escape from this law.

Summary of Core Professional Themes Related to Addictions.

In the article The Neurobiology of Addictions, authors Roberts and Koob (1997) define addictions as “a compulsion to use alcohol or other drugs and the occurrence of withdraw symptoms when long-term consumption ceases” (p. 101).  Comer (2008) included in the his definition of addictions, “regularly bringing damage to their relationships, functions poorly at work, or putting themselves or others in danger (p. 275).  In other words, this is more than just a healthy state of equilibrium that a person learns through experiences of life. It’s an unhealthy state of equilibrium that is kept constant by the effect of a substance through biochemical brain chemistry change, positive reinforcements, and negative reinforcement. The lack of the substance puts the person in a state of disequilibrium from a number of perspectives including physiological and psychological. Hart and Ksis (2011) describe this state from a neuropsychological level of effects of the brain together with the autonomic and central nervous system reaction (p.88), neutransmitters (p.94), frontal cortex (p.90), Hippocampus (p.90), and others. Additional views in reference to a core professional theme related to addictions include: Social Cultural View, Psychodynamic View, Behavior and Cognitive View, along with the Biological View (Mulhollem, 2010a)

Compare and Contrast Biblical Views with Professional Views of Addictions and Counseling Combination: Personal Application

Both the Bible and professional views of addictions have many commonalities. The Bible points out how “wine” or a “strong drink” can become overpowering to a person and take control of them causing them to do things that they may not normally do. The Bible also talks about how “wine” can cause abuse and brawling. In addition, the Bible references “wine” as being a substance that can cause a drunken state. Notice how this focus is on the excess of “strong drink” or a substance that causes a person to change their original identity when under its influences. The Bible discusses restraint and the negative consequences of the lack thereof. Professional addictions have proven through the scientific method that the overuse of substances actually cause a chemical change in the neurobiological processes. This neurobiological reaction actually changes the brain chemistry to a point of desiring or needing the substance to keep what the body considered a new base line. The Bible warns its readers about how a desire can become out of hand to the point where the desire takes over the person. This can be viewed from a dual perspective. First, this can be seen as a warning for a person who is starting to “desire” a substance to the point of changing their original base line. This also can be viewed by those in counseling causing them to take notice of a person who’s “desire” has become an addiction. Just as there are commonalities between the Biblical view and professional view of addictions, there are also some very different perspectives. Some professional theories of addictions blame constructs such as environment, genetic, and biology as a reason for the addiction. These theories avoid the constructs of cognitive processing and free will. Although these theories are not as common in recent history, many still favor these constructs as a scapegoat for a person who chooses to follow an unhealthy lifestyle. However, it is important to mention there are situations where people become addicted to a substance outside of their own choosing. For example, some opioid and methamphetamine addictions due to prescription pain killers prescribed by a physician. It appears that, as the professional view continues to document research results, their views become more and more in line with the Bible. Many of the original models were based upon a moral model assumption or that the person chose to violate “society’s rules and norms” (Hester and Miller, 2003, p. 2).  Changing the addictive lifestyle was a matter of increasing ones drive and self-will. Thus, counseling styles were based upon this mindset with a focus of forcing change of mind through educational information and overpowering. However, these methods were proven unsuccessful as the foundational issue of the client’s belief system was not altered, but actually at times reinforced in the opposite perspective (Hester & Miller, 2003, p. 14). Research showed addiction recovery could be successfully implemented through the same process that the addiction started, but in reverse (DiClemente, 2006, p. 179). The original view of confrontation, education, and authority was re-evaluated and a new system of collaboration, evocation, and autonomy was found to show greater levels of success (DiClemente, 2006).  This presented a way to allow the addictive person to make up their own mind through open ended questions, circular discussion, and allowing the person to explore the truth of addictions for themselves (Miller & Rollnick, 2002, p.60). Therefore, a new concept was brought to addictions counseling; however, this concept was not new, but described centuries ago in the Bible. In terms of counseling, a Biblical perspective presents much of the same findings that have taken decades of research and errors in the professional perspective. For centuries, the Bible has presented a compassionate and caring approach to therapy. Even the foundational theme of the Bible, the gift of salvation, is presented in a way that does not try to force the person to accept, but to choose on their own free will. The Biblical viewpoint of counseling was presented in different aspects with the focus of coming along side of a person and working together as a team. The Biblical perspective of “help” means to create victory together and wisdom represents learning through experience. However, a difference between professional wisdom and Biblical wisdom is its source; Biblical wisdom is given from God. With this author’s personal application to those suffering from addictions, evidence displays the use of Biblical application when dealing through a motivational interviewing style. In other words, motivational interviewing presents many Biblical applications. However, incorporating proven information through research that is presented in a professional perspective is also beneficial. Thus, the author feels one compliments the other. Motivational interviewing has shown a level of success in dealing with addiction counseling. With the style of motivational interviewing that Miller and Rollnick present in their book, Motivational Interviewing, this author believes correlated with Biblical viewpoints as presented. The five frames of motivational intervention line up with Biblical suggestions. The first frame, feedback (of assessment), can be related to the Bible’s viewpoint of counseling in reference to giving good advice after hearing a person’s story.  Responsibility (to change), frame two, allows a person to claim personal ownership of their own as it corresponds to the Bible, as God usually allows people to make their own decisions. The Bible lays out mankind’s story and offers a solution. Now it is up to the person to choose from their previous broken path or heed wise counsel and merge to God’s suggestions. Advice, again, can fall under counseling where, as counselors, we are trained to help reverse an addictive behavior.  With the fourth being menu of options, the Bible does give an option. However, this is where this author finds it important to incorporate research findings and implement positive research. Lastly is self-efficacy. This term, created by Bandura in his social cognitive theory, creates strife amongst some Christians. Although Bandura does not support a Biblical perspective, his self-efficacy theory does. This author believes that if children were raised with a healthy disciple style, while maintaining a Christian or Jewish foundation, self-efficacy would exist. As a Christian counselor, this author has the opportunity to incorporate a Biblical viewpoint of self-efficacy with a balance of personal discipline, desire, and the reinforcement of God’s love and help.


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